House To Take Up Broadband Soon

February 27, 2002
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LANSING — Law-making often is achingly slow, but the Michigan House of Representatives may be laying a fast track for broadband legislation sponsored by Sen. Ken Sikkema, R-Grandville, that passed the Senate last week. Two days after passage of the three Senate bills, the House Energy and Technology Committee served notice that it would hold information hearings this week on high-speed Internet access.

The committee chairman, Rep. Ken Bradstreet, R-Gaylord, has played a very active role in telecommunication deregulation. As the former executive director of the National Association of Alternate Postal Systems, Bradstreet has a professional interest in the issue.

According to a Bradstreet staffer, Brian Mills, this week's hearings will outline to House members what broadband is and then will detail its distribution in the state.

Likely speaking will be Doug Rothwell, CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Rothwell has campaigned across the state about his belief that universal broadband access is indispensable to Michigan's economic competitiveness.

Mills said hearings on the so-called "Sikkema Bills" possibly may begin next week.

Sikkema drew up his bills as private sector alternatives to measures promoted by the governor.

Both proposals aimed at the goal enunciated by Rothwell. Both also set out to standardize a highly fragmented and time-consuming local permitting process, a major discouragement to broadband providers. Both the governor's initiative and Sikkema's bills also responded to industry concerns about disjointed right-of-way fee structures.

Finally, both called for the creation of a Michigan Broadband Development Authority to help finance the expansion of broadband in Michigan. Under the Sikkema proposal, the authority also would have an oversight function concerning whether some parts of the state have insufficient Internet access.

Under Sikkema's legislature, the broadband authority would collect fees from telecommunications providers, and restore all those fees to the municipalities in question. The measure would give the authority no fund of its own and would cause the authority to disappear Dec. 31, 2008.

The governor's proposal would have created a fee-generated fund for the authority and would have set no date for the authority's demise.

An analysis of the Sikkema measures before their adoption indicates three other major differences with the governor's proposals. The analysis may not include any last-minute compromises.

The Sikkema bill would prohibit using universal telephone service tolls as a way to finance broadband.

 The Sikkema measures would encourage broadband by awarding limited tax credits for the cost of installing Internet service lines, while also encouraging providers to share lines with competitors. The encouragement would be a 40 percent discount in right-of-way fees.

The Sikkema measure would collect all right-of-way fees, and return those fees to the municipalities in which those fees are generated.

The legislation sets telecommunications companies' annual right-of-way fees at two cents per linear foot for the first year, and five cents every year thereafter. The fee would replace municipal fees and the authority would return all the money to the municipalities to maintain their right-of-ways.

In instances where the fee is determined to be a net added cost, the telecommunication provider may be eligible for a property tax credit.

"This legislation was crafted so that customer phone rates will not increase," Sikkema said. "It wouldn't be right to pass on the costs to those who don't want broadband service."

The Grand Rapids Chamber and the Grand Valley Metro Council both were in favor of the Sikkema measures.

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